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UMC Pastor: Abortion is “Gray” Issue

In August, pro-life activists in Kansas tried to amend the state constitution to remove its right to abortion. The effort, entitled the “Value Them Both Amendment,” failed by a wide margin.

In the run up to the election, Adam Hamilton, pastor at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, held a July 27 “Conversation About Faith and Abortion” with his congregants and others.  Hamilton’s church is the largest in American United Methodism.  He identifies as a “centrist’ who opposes his denomination’s traditional teachings about marriage and sexuality.

United Methodism has an officially ambiguous stance on abortion that has become more pro-life in recent years.  Declining Mainline Protestant denominations, which are historically liberal, have generally affirmed abortion rights over the last 50 years.  Survey results from Hamilton’s church indicate his church is as divided on abortion as society.

Hamilton viewed this conversation in his church about abortion in Kansas as a way for both sides to practice the injunction in the biblical book of James to be “quick to listen” and “slow to speak,” and in so doing, better “love [God] and love our neighbor.”

The need for listening and kindness was apparently much needed at the famed megachurch. Before the event, a survey concerning views on abortion was released to the congregation, garnering 4,393 responses. The results showed that, even within the church, views on the subject were highly disparate, suggesting that the statewide result in Kansas should not have come as too much of a surprise.

Of the respondents, Hamilton explained that “77% were women, and 23% were men.” Furthermore, while “the people who took the survey were nearly equally divided between Republicans, Democrats, and Independents,” it is noteworthy that more of the men taking the survey tended to be Republicans and more of the women were Democrats. Women were also more likely than the general respondent to declare that they “were very confident” in their views on abortion policy.

With these demographics, views unsurprisingly ranged from heavily pro-life to heavily pro-choice. Still, though no side could claim an outright majority, the survey results revealed that those with pro-choice attitudes outnumbered those with pro-life attitudes by 47% to 44%, including 11% who favored abortion’s legality all throughout pregnancy until birth (as compared to the 1% of respondents who claimed abortion should be entirely illegal with no exceptions).

Hamilton noted, however, that “most people are somewhere not on the ends, but somewhere closer to the middle” on regulating abortion. The plurality response was to suggest that “I believe abortion is wrong, but I don’t believe I should be legislating that to other people,” with 23% of respondents choosing that answer. This particular answer was considered a pro-life position, and included more than half of all pro-life survey responses.

Given the stark divides within Hamilton’s congregation and historic Christian teaching about abortion, Hamilton interpreted his role in the talk as not telling people “How [they] should vote on August 2,” but rather how they might “better understand people in different places.”

To facilitate that end, several female speakers, including Dr. Michelle Lentell (an OB-GYN), U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson, former Kansas state representative Stephanie Sharp, and Dr. Brenda Shoup (a gynecologist), spoke alongside Hamilton to discuss the medical, legal, and political contours of the issue.

Hamilton closed the town hall presentation with meditations upon one more statistic. All respondents were asked the question: “do you consider your own stances to be more or less loving and compassion than the opposing view?” According to Hamilton, “58% said ‘my position is more loving and compassionate than the other side,’” while “41% said ‘it’s equally loving and compassionate’” when compared to the opposite view.

This, according to Hamilton, evinced his congregation’s striving for goodness. “Nobody goes out there and says, ‘What can I do that’s the most unloving thing to do,’ or, ‘How can I do something that’s against God’s will?’”

“If you’re a Christian,” Hamilton summarized, “you are trying to do God’s will and you are trying to understand what God would have you do.”

Of course, regardless of intentions, however benevolent they may be, the fact remains that there are better and worse ways of addressing a situation as morally charged as the matter of abortion.

Hamilton describes himself as “pro-life with a heavy heart, and the heavy heart means that [he has] compassion for people who are walking through really horrible times.” This heavy heart, he elaborated, also meant that “there may be situations that I don’t fully understand, but that may merit or may call for” abortion.

Still, Hamilton maintained that despite that possibility, he doesn’t “ever give advice to somebody to have an abortion.” Indeed, in an attempt to limit the total number of abortions, Hamilton also maintained that “birth control” should be “made free and accessible to anyone.”

Throughout the event, Hamilton insisted that both sides of the debate had legitimate desires and that ultimately Christians across the aisle simply need to listen to each other and share God’s love.

But given the Kansas referendum result, we should ask whether this relativistic attitude from our churches has failed to promote in society, and even within the church, a high regard for all human life.

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